Law and order are two very different things.
There are too many laws and I don’t have much respect for them. I think we could knock the law books down to exactly three laws: don’t hurt any mammal, don’t touch anyone’s property, and don’t counterfeit currency because runaway inflation is terrible.
Order, on the other hand, is the foundation of a civilized society. I have endless admiration and appreciation for the people who maintain order. Without order, there is no freedom of movement or freedom from fear. Without order, we’d just be poor farmer clans fighting and terrorizing one another.
I would have thought that my disdain for law and love of order made me a philosophical outcast. But the mainstream megahit “Dirty Harry” proved me wrong.
In 1970, Clint Eastwood was that old TV star who made violent Italian art films. “Dirty Harry” made him a full-fledged superstar, revered by most every guy in America.
Eastwood plays Harry Callahan: top homicide detective in the San Francisco Police Department. He willingly accepts the dangerous assignments that other cops won’t do.
In one funny scene, Callahan goes up to the top of a building to deal with a suicidal man who is threatening to jump. Callahan mocks the would-be jumper until he lunges in anger. Callahan promptly punches the guy out and brings him down to safety.
The main plot centers around a serial killer who calls himself Scorpio. He kills a woman for no reason and then a 10-year-old boy. Scorpio kidnaps a teenage girl and holds her for ransom. Scorpio is an epic sicko. Director Don Siegel makes it easy on us: the bad guy is such a disgusting sociopath that we will root for Callahan no matter what.
And that’s good, because Dirty Harry is more Robocop than man. He’s fearless and impervious to pain. He’s stone faced and emotionless.
There are just a few scenes where Callahan exhibits humanity. There’s a powerful moment where we see Callahan cringe when he sees the grieving mother of the slain 10-year-old.
After Callahan catches Scorpio, the movie takes a powerful turn. Dirty Harry sits down with the District Attorney and learns that the city is letting the killer free on a technicality.
Callahan: “Are you trying to tell me that Ballistics can’t match the bullet to this rifle [I found]?”
District Attorney: “It does not matter what Ballistics can do. This rifle might make a nice souvenir. But it’s inadmissible as evidence.”
Callahan: “And who says that?”
DA: “It’s the law.”
Callahan: “When then, the law is crazy.”
Exactly right, Dirty Harry. This is the point where Callahan transitions from renegade cop who sometimes ignores the rules to a full-fledged vigilante superhero.
“Dirty Harry” is a timeless classic; it was relevant a half century ago and it’s just as relevant today. The film shows us that justice is subjective and laws often steer us in the wrong direction.
The only constant in every city and every era is the need to maintain order. You may not love men like Dirty Harry, but they are infinitely superior to chaos and anarchy.